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Philippines have a welcome shift on climate change action

In recent years, the Philippines has played an outsized role in United Nations climate talks. Its devastating typhoons make it a symbol of what developing countries face without the resources to protect cities from floodsas seas rise and storms intensify. But in the latest round of talks in Lima, Peru, the Philippines took a bold step forward that was more than just symbolic: the country declared it was time for developing nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions regardless of economic status. The country’s policy makers should be commended for opening a pathway to a significant climate treaty in Paris next year.

This step, which follows a potentially game-changing pledge from China, can only help discussions over carbon emissions break free from the stalemated debate over rich nations versus poor. In the past, the Philippines sided with other developing countries in claiming that the world’s historic industrial polluters, led by the United States and Europe, bear the biggest responsibility to curb emissions and fund infrastructure in low-lying poor nations.

Cutting emissions in developing economies, the argument went, would cripple their drive to industrialize. So it took courage for the Philippines to bolt from an alliance of developing countries that balked at cuts, and take the helm of a bloc of 20 low-lying, Asian, African, and Caribbean nations that is committed to lower emissions.

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In a sign of progress, the Lima talks concluded with a first-ever agreement by nearly 200 nations to provide carbon emissions reduction plans that would form the foundation of a treaty to be signed in Paris a year from now and enacted by 2020. The Obama administration also took a welcome step by pledging $3 billion to a global climate fund to assist poor countries, helping it surpass its initial goal of $10 billion.

The Philippines currently generates 39 percent of its electricity by coal, but plans to triple renewable energy by 2030, and last year had the world’s second-highest geothermal electric generating capacity, behind the US. Its renewable energy policies are among the most extensive among developing nations. Philippines climate secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering said developing countries could no longer “simply mourn and grumble about their increasing vulnerabilities.” Now that the grumbling is subsiding, the next step for the Philippines and climate vulnerable countries is to rally each other to meet upcoming deadlines for cutting emissions that will ultimately add up to a significant climate change treaty in Paris.